That was the weird week that was

Well if this was Harry Potter, I’d say this was a time when the owls were flying.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such a bizarre week of contrasting experiences and emotions.  I suppose mountain tops and valleys always have to co-exist, but this has been the Himalayas rather than the Lake District.

It started over lunch in a harbour-side restaurant, when an old friend told me harrowing things about her past I hadn’t known in 25 years of friendship.

Two days later I unexpectedly found myself in the sort of house where you have to work very hard not to throw up when the smell hits you and the beetles crawl out from under the post you’re trying to pick up and you feel contaminated and itchy for hours afterwards.

I helped three different disabled women swing their exhausted, arthritic legs into my  car to get to places they needed to be and could no longer reach alone.

I sat in a cosy upper room with members of a church group who shared coffee and doughnuts before singing passionate modern worship songs: harmonies and English and tongues flowing together, lost in wonder, love and praise.

I huddled under my hoodie in a chilly country church, note-bashing with a small choir through Christmas songs sung for centuries.

And in a flat down a long, dark alley, I sang and played guitar with a friend who nearly died last year and is still living in the physical and emotional shadow of what has happened to her.

The joys and sorrows have extended to the natural world too:  there was the delight of hearing the badger cull had been suspended (I don’t know when I last felt so strongly about an environmental issue), and the sadness of hearing that thousands of confused birds have suddenly drowned off the coast of England.

And through it all, the niggling knee pain threatening my stress-busting running, and growing complications in my working and family life, like the heavy bass notes in Beethoven’s Appassionata, doom-laden and insistent and gradually growing in intensity.

Woven through it too, the haven of the allotment, horribly weeded over but not beyond salvation or bearing fruit; the kindness of friends; faith, hope and love; the refuge of prayer and the Psalms.

In the wee small hours of this morning, trying to square the unsquareable circles, I stumbled on a poem in one of my most precious books, my late father’s poetry anthology Other Men’s Flowers.

I know nothing about the author, Arthur Hugh Clough, or the circumstances in which he wrote it – sometimes, as with TS Eliot, it’s best not to know too much about a poet whose work you love. But the anthology was pulled together in World War II, when victory must have seemed anything but certain.

Say not the struggle naught availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.

**

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

It may be, in yon smoke concealed,

Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

And, but for you, possess the field.

**

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

**

And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light,

In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

But westward, look, the land is bright.

I hope you’ve had a better week than me, but if not, I hope it encourages you as much as it did me.

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